In an unprecedented move, health officials in El Salvador are encouraging women to postpone having babies until 2018. Directly linked to the Zika outbreak, microcephaly, a birth defect that causes abnormalities and even death in newborn babies, is cropping up across Brazil, El Salvador, and other Latin American countries. The World Health Organization has declared a global health emergency. The virus, first discovered in 1952, spreads through mosquitoes, and their numbers increase as temperatures rise. With no vaccine available, it continues to cause panic throughout the Americas. President Obama is now urging more Zika virus research, especially given the warmer seasons ahead.
With little access to family planning in El Salvador, where it is illegal to have an abortion under any circumstance, this sweeping announcement leaves many to wonder how parents will build healthy families. In El Salvador, one-third of births are to mothers younger than 19 years old. However, despite restrictive laws, the good news is that studies show Salvadoran women of all income levels are increasingly accessing contraceptives. This success stems directly from the Ministry of Health’s push for better family planning programs and access to contraception in public health facilities. Hopefully, officials will make further improvements in order to tackle the need for access to information and family planning, especially in light of the 2018 nationwide push for pregnancy postponement.
Plus, as the Zika virus highlights the overarching need for family planning on a national and global level, it also illustrates how climate change affects all areas of our health. Climbing temperatures mean more mosquitoes carrying Zika, and while the U.S. fears the worst (it’s already reached Hawaii and Virginia), developing countries lacking family planning infrastructure and repro rights stand to suffer the most. With the spread of Zika, the connection between climate change and family planning continues to take main stage.